How Afrochella Is Connecting The African Diaspora
African music, food, fashion and culture are going global. There has been a concerted effort to not only create but also connect on and to the continent through a variety of cultural mediums.
Last year marked the 400th anniversary of the start of the slave trade in West Africa and was dubbed the “Year of Return” to Ghana — a calling to the survivors of the descendants to return home. A calling that many people heeded. More than 200,000 travelers arrived in Ghana in 2019, an influx that allowed the country to see a boost of $1.9 billion into its economy according to the Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture, Mrs. Barbara Oteng-Gyasi.
Among the slew of events last year was Afrochella, the annual art, music, and food festival celebrating Africa’s diverse culture, creativity, and entrepreneurship. Conceptualized by Abdul Karim Abdullah in 2015, Abdul along with co-founder Kenny Agyapong, and COO Edward Adjaye launched Afrochella in 2017 with the hopes of connecting people to the continent while shining a spotlight on rising talent. That was only the beginning.
Born and raised between Accra and New York City, Afrochella co-founder Abdul Karim Abdullah notes how his upbringing shaped him: “I have the fortunate benefit of understanding culture and nuance in both of my cultural spaces.” We chatted with Abdul to learn more about the cultural significance of Afrochella, the importance of positive representation of the continent, how he’s staying inspired and what attendees can expect from Afrochella 2020.
Describe Afrochella in your own words.
Afrochella is a cultural festival. It is meant to celebrate the conversational pieces that represent culture: food, fashion, art and music. Our hope is to be able to tell stories about us by us, while celebrating the best and most creative amongst us.
How do you identify and why is your identity important to you?
I identify as a Black man. My life in American has made it clear people identify me by the color of my skin, prior to my nationality. [I also] identify as a Muslim. Each of these things I represent have made me the man I am and character I exude.
Tell us your why behind Afrochella. Why was it important to bring it to life in the way you and your business partner did?
We wanted to be able to tell stories we wanted to see. It is one thing to go to a concert, it is another thing to be immersed in culture from all over the continent. I am very proud to be African, and to feed that pride, I need to know more and more. Our hope is to make Afrochella that space for our audience to be able to learn.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned through your work with Afrochella?
I’ve learned that entrepreneurship requires a constant thirst for learning. You have to be able to build and manage effective teams. You also have to have grit.
How has Afrochella shed light on Ghanian creatives and entrepreneurs? Tell us why Ghana and the continent as a whole needs more positive representation regarding creativity, businesses and entrepreneurship?
For the past three years we have contributed to the growth of the tourism sector in Ghana. We are directly connected to the $1.9 billion dollars in revenue generated by tourism in Ghana in 2019. Additionally, our creatives and their work have been published in magazines, articles and books from around the world. We have some amazing talent on the continent. For the most part, creatives I have spoken to have pointed to resources as a limitation. Our goal is to leverage our platform to provide those resources.
Despite how ascendant Afrobeats music, African fashion and food is right now in culture, there is still a prevalent us and them mentality both on and off the continent. (ie. Last year, when xenophobic violence broke out in South Africa against migrants from other African nations.) How is Afrochella working to unify the diaspora as a whole? How can others do their part to aid in this unification?
By existing, we have unilaterally contributed to one of the biggest migrations of Black people to the African continent in 2019. We are starting the conversation. It is going to take years of dismantling ingrained mentality in order to fully bridge the misinformation inhibiting our unity. Nonetheless, I believe continuing to showcase beauty in African talent is going in the right direction.
“I am very proud to be African, and to feed that pride, I need to know more and more. Our hope is to make Afrochella that space for our audience to be able to learn.”
What are you working on right now in order to stay innovative and inspired?
I am reading a lot more. I am also spending more time with myself. More often we let life consume us but this pandemic gave me an opportunity to recenter around myself and the people that matter. I am taking more time to connect with family and friends. Taking time to not be busy. It is important to take care of myself as much as I can.
What can Afrochella 2020 attendees look forward to?
Ghana is set to open September 1. Attendees can expect continuity but embrace that COVID-19 has changed everything with regard to congregating. Our team is working diligently to put our attendees and visitors’ health first.